Child Rights and You (CRY)
Keeping children in school and out of employment in India
Incredible progress has been made to increase access to primary education in India, and the number of children out of school has dropped from 16% in 2000 to just 4% in 2015. The Indian Constitution ensures all children within 6-14 years have the right to free and compulsory education and prohibits employment of children below 14 years in hazardous occupations. However, the most recent National Census (2011) indicates that there are close to 10.1 million child labourers in India, in the age group of 5 to 14 years. Many of these children are engaged in manual work including cotton growing, matchbox and lock making, mining and stone quarrying and tea growing.
CRY (Child Rights and You) is an Indian non-profit organisation that believes in every child’s right to a childhood – to live, learn, grow and play. For 4 decades, CRY through its 850 initiatives has worked with parents and communities to ensure lasting change in the lives of more than 2,000,000 underprivileged children, across 23 states in India. They work to ensure children in CRY-supported projects have access to free and quality education and primary healthcare so as to reduce the rate of child malnutrition. They also work towards creating childhoods that are safe from violence, abuse and exploitation and make sure children’s voices are heard in issues that affect them.
Naturally, working to eradicate child labour from Indian childhoods is one major area of intervention for CRY. For instance, many residents of Kotra district in Rajasthan, plagued by poverty, migrate to nearby states like Gujarat to work, including hundreds of children. CRY, alongside their local partner Kotra Adivasi Sansthan, are attempting to curb the problem of child labour through creating Child Activity Centres. The centres not only help re-enrol school dropouts and enhance retention but also reach out to children to bring out their voices and make them aware of their rights.
Eleven year old Sona is one amongst the hundreds of child labourers from Kotra district who benefited from the programme. She shares how she had no choice but to drop out of school: “I miss my father. I was about seven when he passed away. And everything kept on getting tougher. Some days we would eat just once in the whole day. My mother goes away for days. She goes to the big nearby cities where she works as a farm labourer. I was good in studies but had to drop out when I was in second standard. It was not possible to work at home and then go to school. In the next few years I also started going to the cities with my mother. I started helping her out in the farms and most of the time would help in the potato cultivation.”
Sona’s story changed when the Child Activity Centre opened in her village. “It’s a centre for children who have had to drop out from school. The teachers came to my house so many times. They convinced my mother and me that I should learn and not earn at this age. My brothers and sisters too supported my journey back to school. At the centre, the teachers helped me to bridge the gap in studies and I was very fast in picking up. I am now studying in the sixth standard. And I am very happy.”
As Puja Marwaha, the Chief Executive of CRY, suggests, “Being engaged in work leaves these children with no time to study, play or explore other opportunities to realise their potential. When a child goes to school, she has the opportunity and the premise to break away from the cycle of poverty. A child engaged in labour is the very death of that possibility. Every single child in school is one less child labourer in the making. Every child labourer thus rescued, is an opportunity waiting to blossom.”
In a nation of the size and diversity of India, inequities are deeply rooted in gender, caste, class, ethnicity and religion. CRY’s rights-based approach ensures that entitlements are available to all children without any discrimination. They provide the bridge between Child Rights advocates around the world and grassroots organisations on the ground, supporting these smaller organisations with funds and skill development to achieve far-reaching impact on a large scale, so that children are free to experience the joy of childhood.